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Historic bell takes center stage

West Chicago’s Mexican Independence Day celebration

September 01, 2013
By Rosemary Mackey

  • foto: cortesia de West Chicago
    Una antigua campana de tren perteneciente al residente de West Chicago, Lorenzo Covarrubias, estará en el centro de una representación histórica de El Grito de la Independencia de México.
    An old train bell belonging to West Chicago resident Lorenzo Covarrubias will be at the center of a historic re-enactment of “El Grito de la Independencia” of Mexico.

At the center of West Chicago’s Mexican Independence Day celebration Sunday, Sept. 15, is a colorful, spirited and heartfelt tradition.

The re-enactment of El Grito, short for El Grito de la Independencia or the Cry for Independence, commemorates an event that originally took place the morning of Sept. 16, 1810. This event signaled Mexico’s freedom from Spanish tyranny.

For those unfamiliar with its history, El Grito was delivered by Miguel Hidalgo, a Roman Catholic priest from the small village of Dolores near Guanajuato. Hidalgo rang church bells the morning following the release of Pro-Independence inmates by Mexican Patriots. Hidalgo’s act started the revolt against the Spanish rule of Mexico.

Today, El Grito is at the heart of many Mexican Independence Day observances across the country, including West Chicago, with a population slightly more than half Hispanic. While many other area communities have similar celebrations, something unique sets West Chicago’s apart — the sweet, clear tone of a very special bell that takes center stage for El Grito.

Since 1992, this bell has been used every September to help celebrate West Chicago’s El Grito. It is provided by West Chicago resident Lorenzo Covarrubias, known as the Patron de la Campana, or Patron of the Bell.

Covarrubias came to the United States from Mexico in 1949, bringing his family in 1955 and settling in West Chicago in 1957. His was one of the first Mexican-American families in the community.

In his youth, Covarrubias lived a few blocks from the southern terminus of the Southern Pacific Railroad in Guadalajara, Mexico, where he often heard the train bells. As told by his son-in-law, Tom Tawney, “He always wanted to have his own train bell, and found this one at Kohler’s Trading Post on St. Charles Road in Lombard in the early ‘60s. He has provided it every September since 1992 for the community to re-enact the El Grito.”

The bell has the uncanny distinction of melding two significant traits of the town established in 1850 with the formation of the first railroad junction in Illinois — West Chicago’s history and demographics.

“This old train bell ties together West Chicago’s railroad heritage with its modern bicultural present in a very unique way,” Tawney said.

In 2010, as part of the Bicentennial Celebration of Mexico’s Independence, the Mexican Consulate in Chicago requested the use of the West Chicago bell to celebrate the Bicentennial El Grito in Chicago, a great honor.

While the original loud bell-ringing of 1810 was accompanied by shouts of “Viva Mexico” (long live Mexico), the Mexican-American community in West Chicago adds shouts of “Viva Estados Unidos” and “Viva West Chicago” (long live the United States and long live West Chicago) in respect and gratitude to the host country and community.

Like West Chicago’s Railroad Days, which is scheduled around July 4 and includes a parade, carnival, entertainment and fireworks, Mexican Independence Day brings the community together to celebrate cultural heritage, pride and unity.

West Chicago’s Mexican Independence Day Celebration begins with a parade at noon Sept. 15, winding through neighborhood streets, ending up on Main Street in the historic downtown where El Grito will be celebrated on a Main Stage positioned on Galena Street.

The event also will include music, dance, crafts and cultural exhibits. It runs until 8 p.m. and will take place rain or shine. A complete schedule will be made available soon at www.westchicago.org.

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